Falling in Love with Colombia: The Zocalos of Guatapé

I recently wrote a post on the beautiful art of Cartagena.

I had yet to see Guatapé.

A miniscule town nestled in the mountains outside of Medellín, it is known primarily for its location on the edge of Colombia’s largest lake and the rock which soars above the town, domineering the skyline and offering incredible views over the lake and its islands. 649 stone steps lead you up the sheer rock face, twisting right and left, criss-crossing with the staircase down and thankfully offering a few wider steps on which to pause, wait for your heartrate to return to normal and admire the view. Once at the top, it is the incredible beauty that catches the breath in your throat and makes your heart pound.


Attempt at a whimsical pre-climb shot


Just a selection of the 649 steps to the top


Jo at the summit


Beautiful lake and isletas


At the top!


Stunning views over the lake, worth every step

The town of Guatapé is an overload of cute. Black and white do not feature in the town’s vocabulary or colour charts. Door frames clash with walls, neighbours go out of their way to differentiate their houses in every possible way and each street is an amalgamation of rainbows, sweets and potential colour-blindness. The most distinctive aspect of the Guatapé house is the zocalo – a selection or repetition of images across the bottom of the wall, unique to that house. My guidebook tells me that they were originally put in place to prevent the chickens (and children) pecking at the walls, although I don’t entirely understand the reasoning…


Typical street of Guatapé


African plains of Colombia


Standard night out


Rural life as an influence

Even the town’s steps have not escaped the artistic determination of the residents.



We didn’t spend long in Guatapé – thunderstorms and a desire for international food (well, pad thai and falafel particularly) drove us to Medellín after two days. Although it is an adorable town, the sheer number of zocalos and the overwhelming riot of colour begins to feel a little gimmicky after a while. Leaving when we did enabled me to retain purely fond memories of the town: grappling up the steps to the summit of the rock, being embarrassingly excited when I discovered ice-cream at said summit, laughing hysterically (hysteria most likely induced by night bus sleep deprivation, altitude and four cups of coffee) at the fish statue in the square, walking through the deserted town square in the aftermath of a late night thunderstorm and above all, gasping at the incredible designs, creativity and imagination of the people of Guatapé. 


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